Speak of the Ghost: In the Name of Emotion Literacy by Pamela Sackett, Emotion Literacy Advocates, Seattle, WA, 1994, pp. 209, $15.95

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"I am the pain that keeps coming to visit
like a crude and belligerent ghost
irreverent of the facilities
the other guests
and the host"
I will speak of the ghost
I will speak to see
to speak of the ghost is to speak me
---Pamela Sackett

As an advocate of emotion literacy, Pamela Sackett promotes the usefulness of monologues and plays to avow our present feelings, and hopefully, insightfully release the repressed memories of our early childhood hurts. And as a playwright, she designs plays and readings for particular audiences, such as incarcerated juveniles.

It is well known that artistic expression can stir our emotions and on occasion allow us to access even our early pains. The author writes in Speak of the Ghost that she found herself able to feel those feelings after writing of her childhood in a form of rhythmic prose. She had used the substance of early experiences in writing stage scripts, but noticed that those writings had not resulted in the connection to early feeling life-scripts and events.

For inspiration, Sackett draws from the books of Alice Miller, who had described similar experiences as a result of having produced a series of watercolor drawings. As did Alice Miller, Pamela Sackett soon learned that ". . . repressed feelings become haunting entities until they are embraced, expressed consciously through the physical body, understood and corroborated by the mind."

Ms. Sackett invites us to join her in her uncovering process but she writes that its up to us to get what we can from her rhythmic prose. Indeed, I was not able to understand many of her selections even after a number of readings. But those I did understand, I enjoyed.

In describing her early life as a member of a "family of three plus one," the author asks

"What can I be for you mother?
a special daughter for your elastic dreams
that stretch beyond my pliant seams?"

In The Little Engineer That Could her accommodative ways continue:

"unlike my sister who outrightly revolted
and was correspondingly jolted
I set my whole package on automatic pilot
when I was well I stuffed it
swallowed it and shoved it
when I was sick
I was loved for it
and comforted by Dad
whose own secret sadness
was quelled by this madness"

* * *

As I read Pamela Sackett's Ghost, I wondered if the feelings elicited by her approach to resolution were powerful enough to pull on even earlier feelings than those she eloquently wrote about. Could using this approach alone to access our childhood pain ultimately lead to connections with the emotional and physical pain of, for example, birth? Had not Alice Miller began the journey into herself after her early pains were triggered by her watercolor drawings? While, perhaps, this artistic expression approach to dealing with one's early pain might be a "hit or miss" approach to regressive psychotherapy, even other self- primaling attempts can be considered attempts since they often fail to work.

But the author's objective was not to begin the process of re-living her hidden feelings. Neither does she presently consider her unique writing to be a technique for that process. So, Ghost is not the exposition of a technique for mining our early, oftentimes, completely unknown, feelings. That a person can use one's writing for that purpose, however, I have no doubt. It can be another way to connect to the pain of our childhood.

For those who are unable or do not wish to have a professional primal therapist, Stettbacher, in Making Sense of Suffering, writes that written therapy can be effective, but believes it is not as effective as verbal therapy (page 69). Adding the poetical approach to Stettbacher's written therapy, I believe, can give an extra dimension to those who have such abilities. Such a blending of prose and poetry as Sackett has accomplished in Speak of the Ghost, I believe, will prove feelingful and thus helpful in beginning the primal process.

However, as mentioned, Ghost was not written with the goal of becoming another way to self-primal. Even though writing the book resulted in feelings and insights, it was not a substitute for formal primal therapy. Sackett states that "crying became powerful medicine" as a result of her literary efforts of using the rhythmic prose style of expression. Undoubtedly, it can be effective, since there are many paths to the uncovering of those childhood hurts. Feelingful artistic expression is but one. But is this approach systematic, and an effective one to use? For most of us, the artistic approach, by itself, might fail unless combined with the techniques of Stettbacher, Jenson, et als. Once begun, I feel that a person usually continues to use the techniques with which he began the process, but any feeling addition to our basic method can be helpful.

In my case, I invariably wait for the material to connect on its own, and sometimes, when I cannot connect to the material, and feel discomfort, I occasionally nudge its exit with a little alcohol; but mostly my feelings erupt of their own accord. If you begin with Stettbacher's techniques, the chances are you will continue to use that technique. It is almost as though one's brain learns to use a particular access method and prefers that "groved" approach for accessing buried feelings.

* * *

In living her examined life and in tracing its early origins, the author invites us to accompany her via literary art as she will

". . . pick up my own and plow through this looming legacy
and hope as I go in my direction
I meet others along the way
as I reach out to only myself
for permssion
to say what I know to say"

Excerpts from an interview with Pamela Sackett by Maximilian Bocek of the Seattle Repertory Theatre

* * *

PS I grew up in a repressive environment where I had a lot of feelings and responses to things that were going on, feelings and responses that weren't mirrored for me. Instead, I was taught to rationalize them away.

People get talked out of their feelings and emotions all the time, and kids are the least able to guard against that, because they are the most in need of being mirrored. So that's what emotion literacy is all about when it comes to working with children, especially at-risk kids, because they're not getting that mirroring, they're getting feedback that says, " Adapt, adapt, adapt." And those feelings don't disappear.

* * *

PS Alice Miller writes that angry teenagers do not fall out of the sky, that for each of them, their anger is in fact a cumulative reaction to how that person has been treated. I've heard many people say, "Oh, you're a teenager, of course you're going to behave this way, of course you're going to rebel." This is a set of assumptions that doesn't really ask "why." Going into the juvenile detention facility, I felt like so much of the struggle I had was that I was going in with hope and optimism and finding so much resignation. At the facility it stands out in bold relief. I have seen this emotion literacy process work in my own life. I've seen physiological changes. I've seen circumstantial changes. I've seen my ability to get close or intimate with people shift dramatically.

* * *

PS I absolutely think that violence is a sign of resignation. The level of anger matches the level of unmet need. There is something under that anger that, to me, is the essence: what's underneath there is a tremendous amont of grief. Until you go into that process of grieving with a conscious understanding of its original source, I think what you're left with is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. And there is no real thought that this could be different somehow until you accept the grief and move forward with it.

* * *

PS I know from myself that if I'm mistreating somebody, or being impatient with somebody, I can always track somewhere in my history where I had been treated that way when I was a dependent. Remembering that, going back and really feeling how that hurt me, I'm not going to do that to somebody else because I've gotten in touch with what that felt like. With at-risk youth, they've forgotten what it feels like to get hurt. They've removed themselves from that because it's so horrifying. Then they become the offender, because that seems like the safest position to take, or continue to be a victim because that's familiar -- or both. The thing with working with kids is to try to get them back into a place where they can be vulnerable again, and trusting and open.

For information about her work, Pamela Sackett may be e-mailed at: info@emolit.org.

Pamela Sackett has opened a website relating to Emotion Literacy. Her website may be viewed at: emolit